-- In Niger, a country that has faced food crises in recent years, has had a recorded harvest.  However, despite that good news, a new report says malnutrition rates remain very high.

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Food Program have issued a joint assessment on Niger.  It follows a massive humanitarian operation last year.

?Niger was struck by a serious food crisis last year,? says FAO economist Jean Senahoun, ?because (food) production dropped dramatically two years ago and pasture production was very limited.  And all this led to a serious food crisis across Niger.?

But rainfall increased in 2010.  That, along with improved distribution of agricultural inputs, such as seed, fertilizer and pesticide, led to a record harvest.  There was also a rebound in pastureland countrywide.

?So the food supply situation has improved, pastures have improved, but at the same time the crisis has had a serious impact on income, on the nutrition situation of the country, and so on,? he says.

Latest assessment

The U.N. agencies published their latest assessment of Niger Thursday.  It ?urges the international community to continue to provide assistance to Niger so that these welcome gains in food production and food security are not reversed.?  However, the gains have not yet fully translated into a healthier population.

Senahoun says, ?According to the last nutrition survey done in the country in November, malnutrition rates were still very, very high ? above 17 percent in many areas.?

The current high malnutrition rate is affected by factors other than food availability, such as the lingering effects of the food crisis on local economies and access to health care.

The assessment says people in Niger still need assistance in accessing increased food supplies, including support for malnutrition eradication centers.  It also calls for replenishing Niger?s livestock herds, which were devastated during the food crisis.  During drought, pastoralists may be forced to sell their livestock to buy food for their families or slaughter the animals themselves for food.  Either way, livestock, an essential part of communities, are lost.

The U.N. agencies say many families in Niger have been left in debt following the food crisis.  Replenishing livestock is one way of improving family income.